The Pilgrim God: Reflections on the Story of Jesus

71. The Narrow Gate (Luke 13:22-30)

In some ways the story of the stooped woman and the parable of the narrow gate speak about the same thing: the trouble of getting through the door to heaven. The poor woman is a symbol of those who are too despairing to reach up and turn the doorknob; the image of the narrow gate calls to mind those who have so fattened themselves with pride that they cannot squeeze through the door. Perhaps Jesus was prompted to use this image because he was still upset by the prideful protests of the Synagogue leaders who complained that the cure of the crippled woman had not been done in accordance with their rules.

In any case the incident that prompted the image happened this way. Jesus had moved on to another town followed by the crowd of disciples and sight-seers who had been with him now for some days. As they walked along, suddenly "out of the blue" someone asked that anxious question that has plagued believers ever since:

"Lord, are there only a few to be saved?"

No doubt the questioner had been with Jesus for a few days and had witnessed the anger the Lord had shown when dealing with the Scribes and Pharisees ... the supposedly best people in society. Perhaps he thought to himself:

"If the Lord is displeased with these paragons of virtue, how in the world can he ever be pleased with poor `slugs' like me?"

Jesus responded to the question in this way. He said:

"The gate to heaven is a narrow gate and only the "thin" can enter ... those who are not so bloated with pride in themselves or their `things' that they cannot squeeze through the opening."

In his cure of the stooped woman, Jesus had highlighted the dangers of the spiritual diseases of earthiness and despair. Here he spoke about the most serious spiritual illness of all ... the sin of pride. It is most serious because the infected person does not even know that they are sick. The proud pay no attention to the warnings of friends because they don't think friends have any worthwhile knowledge to communicate. They pay no attention to divine threats because they are firmly convinced that they are the only divinity of any importance. They become trapped in their self-created heaven.

If a radical earthiness makes us lose interest in anything beyond the bed we have made for ourselves in this life and if despair makes us think that we are not worthy of anything beyond that poor bed, pride makes us glory in it. We say:

"My bed is my kingdom! Truly, there is nothing better in the universe!"

Jesus made it plain that God has no sympathy for such bloated spirits. He said to the listening crowds words like these:

"When the proud come to the gate of heaven so `filled with themselves', God will say to them:

"Go away! I don't know you!"

It will be no use for the rejected person to claim:

`But God, I carried your authority and preached in your name throughout my whole life!'

To this God will simply repeat:

`Go away! You have committed the ultimate evil act in your life. You pretended to be ME!'"

"If you try to force yourself into heaven because you think you deserve it, you will see strangers coming from all over the world ... people with strange faces and strange accents and (perhaps) even strange lives. They will crowd into heaven instead of you because their humble search for God through a life-time has made them small enough to get through the narrow door. Then you will finally understand that those who seemed to you to be last are really first and that you who have pretended to be first shall be forever last ... separated far, far from me for all eternity."

And with that Jesus moved on to another town.

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